Welcome to the world of Thai journalism
By Andrew Drummond 21.11.01
They met, over a meal of catfish and whisky, on a smart riverboat
restaurant. Within a few minutes, the deck was soaked in blood and three
of them were dead. The bloodbath - the result of a difference of
opinion between reporters from rival newspapers - may have curled a few
hairs in the West.
But here, where journalists often pack Uzis and Magnums, the news was
greeted with little more than a few raised eyebrows. I would certainly
think twice before accepting a dinner invitation with some of my Thai
For the press in this country is like no other. The tabloids, perhaps
the least restricted in the world, are forever breaking new boundaries
on easy showbiz targets. When, for example, a film star was being
blackmailed, the mass tabloid Thai Rath publish the blackmailers' nude
pictures of her.
Yet where politicians and other influential figures are concerned,
the rules are rather different. Here, journalists are not necessarily
picked for their writing skills but for the influence they wield. Many
have their own rackets, nightclubs, bars and restaurants. There is a
local expression: 'Truth will never die, but if you tell it, you will
die for sure.' In one record year, 19 journalists were slain in a
variety of incidents; this was not necessarily because of their fearless
search for the truth but because of conflicting business interests.
I once ran a campaign to close down a camp of long-necked tribal
Padaung who had been put on display in a 'human zoo' for tourists in the
same province. The families, including 21 children, had been kidnapped
from Burma. The head of the kidnap gang hired a national newspaper
journalist to write that I was a 'foreign spy' and that the child
welfare officer who was helping me was a 'riddled old hag who wanted to
start her own rival camp'.
We won. The camp was closed but we had to take it to the government
in Bangkok who warned the local mayor and local police, all of whom were
in the gang leaders' pocket, to back off.
Foreigners are now sending me letters from jail claiming they have
had to pay small fortunes to journalists in order for their
misdemeanours to be kept out of the local paper. They have also been
presented with a price list for bail and a full acquittal.
Last year, a British millionaire was arrested in Pattaya, after
apparently being found in possession of 100 amphetamines found in a
packet of cigarettes. I called for a copy of a video of the Thai police
press conference, which showed two policemen speaking in Thai about how
rich they had become as a result of the arrest.
Not one local journalist picked up on the injustice, yet they must
have known what was going on. The Briton was sent to jail. A few days
later, along came a Pattaya journalist who offered him a deal: hand over
Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£25,000, and the reporter would sort out an acquittal.